The drug represents a first in a new class of antibiotic called platensimycin and could prove a potent weapon against bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), resistant to current antibiotics such as oxazolidinone and streptogramin.
What is more extraordinary is the drug's method of action. Platensimycin is a molecule produced by Streptomyces platensis, a fungus-like bacterium
It works by specifically inhibiting an enzyme called FabF, used in fatty acid formation in bacterial cells. These acids are the central building blocks of cell membranes and surfaces for bacteria.
"Platensimycin is the most potent inhibitor reported so far for FabF," said Eric Brown of McMaster University in Canada.
Despite this amazing discovery, patients are unlikely to experience the drug's potency as the drug is currently in the earliest stages of development. The researchers estimate that it would take a decade of clinical trials and further research before it appears in any pharmacy.
Researchers from the drug company >Merck, were involved in painstaking research work, which involved isolating the new antibiotic candidate from 250,000 extracts from drug-producing microorganisms were tested.
The antibiotic was then involved in an experiment on mice, which were infected with Staphylococcus aureus. The promising results showed that platensimycin cleared the bacteria with no toxic side-effects.
The 40's and 50's were the golden age of antibiotic research, with the majority of today's drugs discovered in that period. The majority used a similar mechanism of action, namely by interfering with the formation of a bacterium's walls, proteins or DNA, so that it cannot reproduce and spread.
Scientists have traditionally tweaked the molecular structures of existing antibiotics to keep them working against resistant bacteria but this process can only work a limited number of times. The rising incidences of antibiotic resistance suggest that this number has been reached.
Indeed, a number of pharmaceutical companies have pulled out of antibiotic drug discovery because of the cost involved and the ever-increasing difficulty of the research involved.
The results are published today in >Nature.